This is a passage from a novel:

"No," he said again, standing up straight and wiping his palms on his pajama pants. "We've already got plane tickets." (Both quotes are Neal's)
"Neal, I'm serious. I can't miss this meeting." (Gerogie said this)
"I know," he said, turning toward her. His jaw was set. Permanently

What does "his jaw was set" mean?

  • 6
    Literally, it means his jaw was clenched tight, and as an outside observer, you could see he little muscle at its corner. Figuratively, it means he was determined and could not be dissuaded.
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 30, 2015 at 18:55
  • I was thinking that this might go back to some biblical quotations, but I see that's "stiff-necked" (Exodus 33, eg). Close to the same figurative meaning, however.
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 30, 2015 at 20:30
  • Medically speaking, "His jaw was set. Permanently" may mean he has lockjaw, a symptom and synonym of tetanus.
    – JEL
    Sep 30, 2015 at 21:02

4 Answers 4


I read it in the context given as hyperbole, that he was clenching his jaw determinedly for quite some time.

This is Lexico verb definition 4.4:

with reference to a person's face) assume or cause to assume a fixed or rigid expression.

  • ‘When he glanced back at the corner, jaw setting, she laid her hand on his arm.’
  • ‘Following my faint shadow across the tan carpet and up to my feet then leisurely climbing to my face until our eyes meet, the enemy noticeably tenses and her jaw sets.’
  • ‘His jaw sets and he doesn't respond, and I know he knows that was a mean thing for him to say, but I also know he isn't going to apologise.’
  • ‘Their face tightens immediately; their features fall, the jaw sets and the arms cross.’

Alternatively, it's the adjective definition 1.2 — both are close in meaning:

(of a person's expression) held for an unnaturally long time without changing, typically as a reflection of determination.


Bridge to Terabithia Chapter 3:

Jimmy Mitchell’s jaw was set. “I won, Fulcher. You couldn’t even see from way back there.”

I guess "to set one's jaw" means to show his or her determination.

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    – Community Bot
    Nov 14, 2021 at 2:16

Closing one's jaw and setting the teeth together, not quite gritting them hard, is a means of preparing for a punch, or the possibility. This is setting one's jaw in preparation for trouble and it says that a decision has been made. This is usually the description given when the individual has decided on action and is ready for whatever trouble may come. In the case of the text extra emphasis is given on the determination, permanent. In the case of airline reservations I don't know if it would be enough.


It appears to be using a clenched jaw metaphorically to indicate holding tight to opinions or plans, an intention to be intransigent.

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